Saturday Musings: Columnist Michael Spath
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NCAA Should Open Its Doors To Former CHL Players
For as long as the early-departure epidemic as raged on, there has been discussion by college hockey enthusiasts what the NCAA should do about it. Obviously, little has worked, largely because the NCAA is trying to navigate waters it cannot control. In essence, the NCAA has no legal power to prevent players from leaving (the college basketball one-and-done bylaw is actually an NBA rule). What it must do instead is focus on the players it is allowing to come to school.
If the NCAA was to get smart, something of an oxymoron, it would waive its archaic amateur rules when it comes to college hockey and allow for players that have competed in the CHL to attend college, even if they have accepted a contract and have been paid (though relatively speaking we’re not talking about large sums of money).
Blasphemy you say! After all, if the NCAA opens that can of worms, how could it not infect the rest of collegiate athletics. Just think of the loopholes college basketball and college football will try to take advantage of.
Understandable concern, but the problem the NCAA has long had with college hockey is its desire to treat it like every other college sport, and the simple truth is, college hockey is very unique. What other sport, for instance, has a professional competitor for recruits? Not college football, or college hoops or college baseball, wrestling, track and field, golf, swimming and diving, and on, and on, and on.
College hockey faces this juggernaut every day, though. Elite hockey players, those good enough to dream of a pro career, can sign with a CHL team when they are 16 (though there is a limit on the number of 16 year olds on a roster), voiding a potential future in the college ranks.
Understandably, especially among Canadians that grow up on the CHL much like Americans grow up on college athletics, the CHL usually wins out. After all, it is considered the best developmental league in North America with almost half the NHL spending at least some time in the CHL.
With that type of resume no wonder the NCAA faces an almost insurmountable challenge convincing the best young prospects in the game that college hockey is a better avenue to exploring their futures. Of course, the NCAA marketing appeal could use a dramatic makeover (how about selling the college “experience”) but that’s a topic for another column.
In the here and now, the NCAA should restructure its policy on amateurism, for college hockey only, to accept any recruit that has spent two or fewer seasons in the CHL and who has made $50,000 or less during that time.
Covering college hockey for 10 years, and following recruiting just as long, I have seen plenty of commitments to Michigan, Minnesota, Boston College, North Dakota, Notre Dame, Maine, etc., bolt for the CHL before signing a letter of intent (and some even leave after signing letters of intent) but I’ve also seen plenty of those recruits then wish they could go back and undo what they did a year or two years later. Dreaming that it was possible to play college hockey.
And it should be a possibility. After all, why punish young men for making an impossible decision when they’re 16, 17 and 18 years old. No other sport, with the exception of baseball (but only at 18 and after their senior year, and if they’re drafted) puts these young men under that kind of pressure.
The NCAA should open its doors to these athletes, providing them the second chance at a real college education – the CHL academic opportunity is phony at best – while improving the quality of the college hockey game and winning over a reluctant Canadian sector (and some Americans too) that could increase the market reach of the NCAA game.
Imagine the improved product if college hockey added even 20 upper-echelon skaters that realized the CHL wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Imagine how grateful the hockey-rabid greater Toronto market would be. Imagine how allowing NCAA programs to do this could compensate for the early departures the teams suffer each summer.
The NCAA bureaucracy needs to open its eyes and think outside the box. College hockey is hurting and needs to fight back. It can’t go toe-to-toe with the CHL. It doesn’t have the leverage, but it can serve as a haven for those young athletes looking for a second chance, hopeful one decision in their life will not impact the rest of their life. They deserve the opportunity to receive an education – after all, isn’t that what college athletics is supposed to be about?
Michael Spath has been covering college hockey and college football for 10 years as the University of Michigan beat writer/columnist for TheWolverine.com. He also served as the publisher of CollegeHockey247.com from 2010-11, and has done freelance work with a number of hockey and general sports publications/Web sites. Michael is an active member of his community in Ann Arbor, serving as a middle school forensics coach, a youth baseball coach, and as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.